Picastro’s Well Kept Secrets

With the release of Become Secret on Canadian label Polyvinyl (Monotreme in Europe), Toronto-originated band Picastro deliver their fourth album of avant-folk. Drawing inspiration from Cormac McCarthy The Road, they manage to turn the throbbing, obsessive cry of memory into a strikingly lively gallery of unravelled secrets.

picastro-become-secret-300pxA few notes on an ill-tuned piano, distant and bleak like a ghost, leads you into Picastro’s secrecy. “Twilight Parting”, a phrase repeated over and over still conveys an impression of instability: a chain whose link are constantly about to break. Liz Hysen’s voice may at first sound blank, atonal, colorless. Yet, with tracks like “Split Heads”, it soon declines every possible shades of whites, with glints of icy blues, faded yellows, and opalescent flesh, reminding at times of early Chan Marshall or Lisa Germano. A vivid humanity immersed in a world of decaying memories. The voice maintains a dialogue of Glissandos and approximate tones with Nick Storring’s cello, often reaching the frontier of sinister. Dusty strings and keyboards circle into a macabre waltz with “A Dune A Doom”.

The specter of Eastern European folk music is a relevant influence in the light of their discography. On the other hand, drawing inspiration from Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller The Road may seem an opportunist choice for an indie band. But with little technique, a taste for minimalist arrangements and arpeggios played on a loop, Picastro illustrate their gift for creating intricate atmospheres. They translate the despairing, almost stifling feeling of loneliness of the novel, accurately – though not literally – depicting the overwhelming mist of smoke and ash that cover, isolate, and humiliate all.

Centered around singer and multi-instrumentalist Hysen, the Toronto band was founded 13 years ago and started recording in 2002. Although they have encountered definite critical success, collaborated with various artists, including Owen Pallett, and toured alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cat Power, or Elliott Smith since then, their fourth album still finds them almost unknown, even to the indie-aficionados.

Listen to “Twilight Parting”

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Indeed it is not the most welcoming music. It verges on gothic folk with tracks like “I Know My Time”, while Storring’s untidy bows come out with palpable textures: rosin powder floating in the half-light and wood, lots of wood. Oil varnished wood, creaking wood floor and doors, patinated banister. A whole house – not so distant neighbor to Black Forest/Black Sea’s or Elfin Saddle’s – made out of the woods of cellos, violins, guitars and piano, assembled with the rusty strings and metal parts of a scarce electric guitar. A labyrinth clutter. A story is told in every room: that of a haunting past, that of renunciation with the lo-fi incantations of “Suttee”, stories of witchcraft with the vocal chaos of “A Neck In The Desert”. Cello and binary guitar pattern back up Liz’s voice on “The Stiff”. According to Hysen, this last track synchs up seamlessly with the final scene of Antonioni’s The Passenger. Let us know if you try, but regardless of the anecdote, there is in “The Stiff” a sense of timelessness, of fulfillment and soothing melancholy that clearly surpasses its stark instrumentation, and that is enough to make you press play again as soon as the 29 minutes – only?! – LP is over.

Behind the mist of smoke and ashes, each song in Become Secret brings their ghosts back to the flesh, and the forlorn rooms eventually perspire with intimacy. A vivid humanity that makes every painful note worth lending an ear.

Buy become secret on Bommkat